“These fragments I have shored against my ruins” – T.S. Eliot
About this time every year I get the chance to do some archiving and tidying-up of my work. When I say my ‘work’, I mean my published writing, my unpublished writing, my book collection, as well as my archives of artworks, exhibitions, photographs, videos and songs etc. Oh yes, and then there’s my archive of teaching materials too.
It’s the kind of process that you need to do constantly but in reality, leave until a certain special time comes around. Then it becomes consuming, and quite enjoyable. I’ve always taken great pleasure in rationalising things and organising spaces, and love cleaning jobs, which I find very satisfying.
The challenge, of course, when archiving and organising, is what and how to keep and what and how to discard? To keep your work, and to keep it in some kind of order that might be comprehensible to others implies that you work is important and that it deserves to be taken seriously. So, first of all, archiving has to make this assumption, which is really a great gamble, that anyone other than yourself might regard your life’s work as valuable.
If you continue to live precariously, always worrying about meeting the rent, not owning any property and not having any descendants it might be hard to imagine who would take the trouble of saving your proud archive from simply dissipating and ending-up in landfill. Nevertheless, if you don’t take pride in it, and care for it, then why did you do it? Why did you write all those articles and essays so carefully? What has your life and career been for or been about?
Those from more privileged classes and families can perhaps expect their friends, colleagues, off-spring or relatives to care for the fruits of a life’s creative labours within the relative security of a family home. But a life-long renter like me, who is always in fear of being moved-on by the next rent-hike or landlord’s whim cannot count upon this kind of protection and preservation.
There is nothing wrong with being proud of anything that you have made and that no-one else has made or could make, and I tend to keep just about everything that I regard as ‘made’ and as idiosyncratic in this way.
However, to return to the points above, if you are a kind of ‘arriviste‘ class-migrant like myself, while it is your creative work itself that embodies your life’s journey the lack of financial status makes all you have achieved unusually precarious.
Perhaps more interestingly, however, this issue gets to the nub of the meaning and value of your work and perhaps of art itself. i.e. why do we make it and who or what or ‘when’ is it for? Why and how is it valuable, and why and how should it be valued by anyone other than yourself?
The process of care that goes into the making of an art work – whatever medium you are using – and I include writing in this category – is evidence of some hope and belief in posterity, in a future, where and when such things will continue to be cared-for. At the same time, it is an insistence upon that same future and hope, in itself the very creation of that future, of that hope.
When we make art, we make possibility and make the world endure. We keep the world turning, even though there is no evidence to say that what we are doing is valuable, and even though there is no evidence that the world will indeed keep turning.
Thus, we come again to the ultimate gamble taken by all art and all artists. We do not make our art for the future as a kind of complacent assumption of the value of what we do.
Rather, aware of the peril and chaos into which the world and our work might descend at any moment we defiantly and bravely continue to make, as a challenge to those entropic forces, and in so doing balance the scales, keeping creativity of every kind, even simply creative thoughts, available as a foil to the powers of destruction and dissipation.